One day as I was walking over to B wing for quizbowl practice, I noticed a strange blue light emanating from Tellabs, and, seconds later, a dazed old man with wild hair and a lab coat stumbled out the door.
“Yes, I did it, I really did it! All it took was an unspecified scientific procedure I can slap the word ‘quantum’ onto and call it a day!” he shouted. Seeing me in the hallway, he walked towards me with a horrifically excited expression, and it was at that moment I really regretted not adding Security to my contacts. “My dear boy, you must carry on my work! I trust you’ll figure out how to use the machine, and then I’ll show ‘em just how smart I was!”
Then, as quickly as he had arrived, the old man pressed a button and disappeared in a puff of smoke, shouting “see you in the next life, kid!” As I stood there trying to comprehend what had just happened, wondering if this was another all-nighter-induced hallucination, the fire alarms went off and I was drenched in sprinkler water. Besides answering “Benedict Cumberbatch” for a Benedict Arnold tossup, this was the second-worst situation I’d ever gotten myself into. Dejectedly, and in violation of safety regulations, I’m obliged to add, I walked into Tellabs and sat down at a table, hoping to drown my sorrows in Family Guy youtube shorts.
Just then, I heard the sound of machinery from behind a cabinet door, and I opened it up to find what appeared to be an IMSA shower. This dream just kept getting weirder and weirder. Figuring there was no harm in doing so, as I was already soaking wet and miserable, I moved the shower handle to hot water. As soon as I did so, I was blinded by the same blue light from before, and everything went dark.
When I woke up, the shower was standing in the middle of cornfields as far as the eye could see. A man on a tractor drove by and went into a conniption when he saw me.
“Hey kid, stop tramplin’ my crops with that shower of yours! You think this is some kind of joke, huh?” He walked towards me, pitchfork in hand, and I was about to make a break for it when a paperboy for the “Exposition News” walked through the field towards me.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Joe McCarthy calls out the commies in the forest service and their dastardly plot to plant Red Maples! Extra!”
I walked up to the paperboy and asked him what year it was. “Why the year? Good ol’ 1953, of course! Things are lookin’ up, and my pa says we oughta win the war in Korea in no time!”
I’d found a real time machine! Considering the old man’s mental state, I was surprised it got me anywhere. Luckily for me, before the farmer caught up with me, he began chasing after the paperboy. “Get outta my crops, you rapscallion! I’ll drive you off this field for good, or my name isn’t Amos Jebediah Glazer!” He paused, and added, “I will help you with your math homework, though!”
Glazer, huh? What an interesting coincidence. I walked back to the shower-time machine and thought I’d try some more experimentation. I moved the handle to a cooler water setting, and I was once again zapped away to a different time.
I stepped out of the time machine to find myself back in IMSA, but something was different. The tile was brighter, the carpet was fresher, and sounds of Nirvana and Snoop Doggy Dogg music greeted my ears. I walked out into the hallway to see what was going on, and I accidentally collided with a student, causing him to drop his papers.
“Aw no, not my BC worksheets! Dr. Fogel won’t let me hear the end of this!” I helped him pick up his papers, and saw a name written on one of them—”Steve Chen.” My mind was racing a mile a minute, and I could barely contain my excitement. I finally found another Steve just like me!
“Thanks for helping me pick up my papers,” he said. As he walked away, I heard him say, “Wow, that would have been so great if I could have gotten it on video and posted it online! Oh well.”
After exploring campus a bit more, I returned to the time machine to find the words “Low on fuel” displayed on the shower handle. Darn! I guess I was going to be stuck in the nineties, with nothing but my knowledge of the meteoric growth that certain tech companies would achieve in the coming years. Wanting to get back home, I knew I needed to find a way to power the machine. A golf cart battery I “borrowed” from Security didn’t seem to do anything, nor did a computer power cable I “borrowed” from ITS.
When I thought all hope was lost, I came across a Leon Lederman lecture about spacetime in the TV pit, and it was through his wise words of support—and the chunk of Uranium he gave to me after I explained my predicament—that I finally found the will to get back. With the time machine up and running again, and the Geiger counter only reading 300 roentgen, I fired up the machine and turned the handle back to the coldest setting yet.
This time, when I stepped out of the machine, I found myself in a cold, dank basement, surrounded by various pipes and valves. I must have overshot my time! Nervously, I ascended the stairs to find myself in the atrium of a modern building, where students whirred around sitting in flying carts. Looking up, I saw a sign reading “Benevolent Leader Elon Musk Center for Mars Mission Training, a division of Secretary Xi Jinping Space Credit Program.” I walked into a classroom, where an elderly Dr. Hancock addressed his Creative Writing Class.
“Good morning, everyone! Now, let’s see if we’ve managed to read up on the ChatGPT algorithms needed to write Samuel Beckett-style college essays.” Suddenly, the entire class turned around and eerily stared at me, before a voice rang over the loudspeakers. “Unidentified organism present, terminate on orders of principal X Æ A-12.” I ran out of the classroom and back to the time machine, followed by laser blasts from Boston Dynamics Robo-dogs. Miraculously, I made it down to the basement, and managed to seal off the door with unused Cybertruck side plating. When I got to where I had been, however, the time machine was nowhere to be found.
“You’re running out of time, kid,” a mysterious voice called from the dark. A child-size Tesla drove out the shadows, driven by none other than my old stuffed shark friend Blahaj. “The resistance soldiers can cover us for a few minutes, but we need him to close the loop. Our entire future depends on it.” Suddenly, the same old man who got me into this whole mess appeared in a puff of smoke before us, the time machine with him.
“Welcome back, my friend!” Blahaj cordially addressed him. “I see your time travel methods have been very successful! How did you ever pull it off?”
The old man went and talked with Blahaj in hushed tones, and all I could make out was “Lexington Ice Cream machine,” “Goose feathers,” and “Resistance bands.” The old man turned around and addressed me. “Son, you’ve completed the mission! The depleted time core will make the perfect weapon to finally win the war!” He ripped the shower head out of the wall, and it began to glow with the same blue as before.
It was then that I finally asked, “Who are you! Why did you make a time machine? Why did you bring it to 2023 of all times? Why me?” Turning around, the old man addressed me at last. “Mr. Walsh, I’m your cousin’s wife’s neighbor’s college roommate’s best friend’s great-uncle. Say, you ever seen Spaceballs?”
I had no idea what to make of this, so he continued, “We needed to find the most absent-minded person who we could guarantee would be foolhardy enough to not only start up the time machine, but bring it around to enough different times that we could get a good use out of the core.”
“So, I’m the chosen one?” I asked.
“….yes??” he replied.
It was then that the Robo-dogs finally broke through the door, but with a quick blast from the shower head, they were all melted into molten metal goop. “Ah, what a pleasant surprise… an IMSA shower causing something to overheat for once!”
Blahaj gave me a set of keys. “Well, son, I guess you’re ready to go back to your own time. You can use this Tesla here. Godspeed.” It was then that the old man started blasting “没有共产党就没有新中国” to attract the Social Credit bots, and I knew it was my time to leave. I powered up the Tesla, but I made the fatal mistake of putting the lever in forward instead of reverse. Before I could correct for this, the flimsy plastic handle snapped off, and I was sent flying forward in time.
I saw trillions of years of history unfold in front of me in a matter of seconds, powerless to move or even speak. Wars fought, societies built and destroyed again and again, new ways to procrastinate developed. Time marched on until when all the trees on campus seeded and died and seeded and died until there were no trees and no life to be shaded by them, when the earth was scorched by a monstrous, dying sun and there was no more grass left to touch. Beyond all the darkness and decay, though, there was still life and joy, and the indomitable human spirit stared the indifferent cruelty of the universe in the face and said “Not today, [redacted]” until the very end.
Just when I reached the end of time, and I accepted my fate, a voice called to me from the empty universe. “Your time has not yet come, my child. You shall return to where you belong.” Blahaj, the eternal shark, swam over to me and, with a smack of his tail, sent me flying back in time and space to quizbowl practice.
I arrived to practice five minutes late, but I was overjoyed to be at practice and all, and I knew then and there that I needed to cherish the time I spent with the seniors before they finally left and went off into the world. ←MORAL OF THE STORY
“You guys aren’t going to BELIEVE what happened to me!” I said as I stared at my teammates and Blahaj, who looked in my direction with a knowing gaze.
“No,” Saketh responded, “I don’t think we will.”